Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 4: 5–12; 1 John 3:16–24 & John 10:11–18
Today is of course Anzac Day, the day when we remember and honour those Australian servicemen and women who have served their country in the various armed conflicts that Australia has been involved in during the past 100 plus years since the First World War.
One of the terms that has been coined in this time to characterise the attitude of Australians is the ‘Anzac spirit’. How do we define the Anzac spirit?
The Australian War Memorial website refers to it as, “the positive qualities which Australians have seen their forces show in war. These qualities are generally accepted to include endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship.”
The Western Australian branch of the Returned Services League of Australia suggests that the spirit of Anzac is still seen today in times of crisis or hardship. During cyclones, floods, and bushfires, Australians come together “to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone”.
In our second reading this morning, the author of the First Letter of John writes, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” Put simply, this means that anyone who claims to be Christian, but who refuses to help someone in need when they have the resources to do so, is not living out of their faith or bearing witness to God. The author of the First Letter of John describes it this way: God’s love should be displayed by our actions and not by our words.
One doesn’t need to be Christian in order to rescue and support the victims of disaster in the way described by the the WA branch of the RSL, but I guess we could say that it is an expectation that Christians will, where circumstances allow, do just that. I wonder if this predisposition on the part of Australians, be they Christians or otherwise, to rescue and support the victims of disaster, comes from the fact that our nation was founded on the principles of Christianity? Obviously Australia was a colony of Great Britain, itself a culture and society influenced strongly by its Christian history.
So what does it matter then, if we are Christian or not? We can still live as good and decent people, helping others who are in need, even if we aren’t Christian. What is the difference?
The Apostle Peter gives us the answer to that question in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, when he is questioned by the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, the same leaders who had Jesus crucified, on whose authority he had healed a man who was lame from birth. Peter tells them the man has been healed by the name of Jesus, whom they rejected and crucified. He also tells them that there is no other name under heaven by which human beings can receive salvation. In other words, people can only be reconciled in relationship to God and be raised to eternal life with God through Jesus.
In the story of the ‘Good Shepherd’, from today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold”, by which he means that not only has he been called to shepherd the people of Israel, but that his mission is also to bring the Gentiles into the same flock. Through Jesus, all the people of the world will be saved because of his self-sacrifice in dying on the cross.
That’s the significant difference between us as Christians and others. Yes, we are expected to follow the teachings of Jesus and to love our neighbours as ourselves, which includes, but is not limited to, rescuing and supporting the victims of disasters. But more than that, being Christian assumes that we believe God became human in and through the person of Jesus; that Jesus suffered death on the cross so as to free us from the power of sin, and that he was raised from the dead to eternal life with God so that we might be reconciled in a relationship with God, and be raised to share in eternal life with Him.
To be Christian is to be more than just a good and decent person who helps other people in need. That perhaps describes the second ‘Great Commandment’, which is of course to love our neighbours as ourselves. To be Christian means that we should also follow the first commandment, which is to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.